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Aussie Single Reviews: September 20th, 2017

Homegrown gems that should be on your radar.

Tempus Sun – Gold

Sounds like: A beautiful warm piece of Indie pop, that offers a danceable chorus and heartwarming lyrics.

Don’t miss: The old-school family-video-style music vid.

For fans of: Boy and Bear, Missy Higgins, Mumford & Sons

Tinpan Orange – Wanderers

Sounds like: Classic dreamy ballad from the hypnotic alternative troubadours.

Standout moment: The subtle vocal slide in Emily’s delivery of the song title. *shivers*

For fans of: Laura Marling, Angus & Julia Stone, The Jezabels

Ball Park Music – Exactly How You Are

Sounds like: The poppy, feel-good alt-rock we have come to know and love from BPM.

Best lyric: “I see phoneys and their room for improvement.”

For fans of: Beck, Cloud Control, Stornoway

Emma Russak – Body Goals

Sounds like: Deadpan damnation of modern aesthetic values.

Listen when: Social media has shot your self-esteem to pieces.

For fans of: Ali Barter, Kate Miller-Heidke

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Single review: Harry Styles’ ‘Sign of the Times’

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You can blame it on Trump, global warming or technology, but whatever the cause – even pop music can’t escape a good old existential crisis these days.

Case in point: Harry Styles’ mammoth debut solo single, Sign of the Times. A cold, harsh, 5’40” epic that doesn’t so much as offer us a tissue in our hour of need, this surprisingly dark offering is a strange note on which to embark on a solo career.

Blunt, moody piano chords accompany the unsympathetic opening line: “Just stop your crying, it’s a sign of the times/Welcome to the final show, hope you’re wearing your best clothes”. Is this a somewhat arduous attempt to be taken seriously? To move as far in the opposite direction of You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful as possible? Whatever the motive, Sign of the Times is surely the music equivalent of the ice bucket challenge for the fluffier 1D fans out there.

If we follow his lead and put Styles’ musical past firmly behind us, there’s a good chance we’ll get swept up in the majesty of this song once the post-rock electric guitar catapults the chorus into the stratosphere. We could note the falsetto that is so clearly of the same mould that spat out Zayn Malik’s Pillow Talk and the horrifyingly ubiquitous I Don’t Wanna Live Forever. We could even cheer up a little by the third refrain: “Just stop your crying, have the time of your life”.

Eventually, though, you’ll start wondering who this song really sounds like – because while it may be revolutionary for Harry, it’s a drop in the pop ocean creatively. Dredge up vague references to power ballads and rock bands and finally you may settle, as I did, for the thought that it sounds rather like a Michael Buble/noughties-U2 collab. Then again, that is something I’d pay to hear. 2.5/5 STARS

 

 

Adele @ ANZ Stadium 10.3.17

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She had them at ‘Hello’.

4/5 stars

They came with spouses, with boyfriends, with grandmas. They came in families, alone, with children, and friends. They came skipping and running and limping and strolling.

And they came in hordes.

Although there were many (no doubt willing) husbands in tow, it was clear that on Friday night Adele was providing the ultimate girls’ night out for a large chunk of Sydney’s female population. (And those who weren’t there, were probably Justin Bieber fans broke from buying tickets to his upcoming concert in the very same stadium)

While the gender sway was obvious, the median age was a little harder to pick – but the fact that over half the audience burst into song only when The Turtles’ Happy Together (not Gomez, Bieber and co.) was piped into the arena pre-show, indicated a strong Baby Boomer presence. Regardless of age or sex they were ready to party, and in the case of many, with tipsy abandon.

Still, that’s what Adele does, isn’t it? She gives us permission to simply be ourselves – whether that’s to contribute our soulful howls to Someone Like You (“My songs are pretty miserable, I know” she concedes with a laugh), or throw our hands in the air to I’ll Be Waiting (“I know they’re telling you to sit down, but don’t listen to them!”).

ANZ Stadium engulfs 95 000 people with ease, but all that changes the instant Adele opens her mouth. There is no other voice that could so effortlessly fill, overwhelm and utterly own that cavernous stadium, yet at the same time – here’s the crazy part – sound as intimate as a bar gig.

Perhaps it’s because Adele’s modus operandi is bizarrely earthy for one so revered. Defiantly behaving as normally as possible in the face of extraordinary fame and adoration, she shares genuinely funny anecdotes with 95 000 people as though we’d bumped into her at the supermarket check-out queue. There are plenty of artists who (credit to them) try to reach out to their audience with easy familiarity. Adele just does it.

How? We’ll probably never know. At least, not while we’re swaying to When We Were Young, hollering Send My Love To Your New Lo-ov-er, and sitting amidst a twinkling stadium during Bob Dylan cover Make You Feel My Love.

If the crazy part was that this mammoth concert felt intimate, the crazier (though less surprising) part is exactly how good Adele sounds live. She may have warned us that “sometimes I burp” in the key change of Don’t You Remember; she may have been on the verge of tears as she stopped the concert to check on an unwell audience member; she may also have almost fallen down her own (“f***in'”) stairs and walked around 7000 steps as she made her rounds of the circular stage; but delivery after powerhouse delivery made it very clear that no studio can truly capture the magic that is Adele.

Of course, Adele is not a stadium performer – she told us so herself – but that is most likely because she has little use for fireworks, streamers and balloons (all of which we got just the same). Her voice trumps the lot. At the end of the night it is not the stadium show we have paid for, no mere spectacle; it is the privilege of being in the same space as that magnificent voice, paired with uncanny relatability. And that was worth every damn cent.

Single review: Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape Of You’ & ‘Castle On The Hill’

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Is it just me? Am I just an old humbug? Or are Ed Sheeran’s two new singles really nothing special?

There. I said it. I am underwhelmed.

It’s not that Shape Of You isn’t sensual, poetic and catchy – it is. It’s not that Castle On The Hill isn’t a tender, uplifting piece of pop – it is. And it’s not as though either of those singles could do anything other than hit the apex of the charts in a heartbeat – they did.

But after two years of the incessently ubiquitous hits of X, surely it wasn’t too much to hope for something…fresh? Sheeran has always been a passing interest of mine, an artist to play when I need a sentimental or angst-ridden singalong. He owes me no particularly great debt of fandom, and yet I feel cheated.

If you’re not too outraged to keep reading, I’ll explain myself now, I swear.

Shape Of You was always going to steal the limelight. Flirty, sexy, catchy as all hell…on paper it works, out loud it sounds like a rework of Nina with a little bit of Don’t thrown in. Is this really all Sheeran has to offer? It’s a solid comeback, but it’s so. damn. safe. Also, TLC’s No Scrubs keeps popping into my head every time the pre chorus starts and that is just not a good thing.

Castle On The Hill offers a surprising change of pace – perhaps Sheeran’s attempt at a new flavour of songwriting? – but it sounds strangely anonymous after the textbook songwriting of the sister single. Although Sheeran delivers with satisfactory character, Castle On The Hill could belong to anybody. Most plausibly, in the introduction, U2 circa The Joshua Tree.

Are you still reading? Did you make it? Do you think I’m crazy?

It’s just…after the sweet nothings of +, 2014’s X offered grit and swagger and a maturing sound. While Shape Of You and Castle On The Hill are deserving chart-toppers amongst the swirl of radio favourites, they have ultimately failed to build on Sheeran’s ever-promising foundations. Did Thinking Out Loud leave such a big void that we will happily greet regurgitated inspiration with such enthusiasm? Evidently so.

But keep grooving, kids – there are worse songs you could get excited about. Having had my vent, I shall now banish my disappointment to the quietest murmurings and leave you be. (Bah. Humbug!)

In defence of an unabashed love for Mariah Carey’s ‘Merry Christmas’

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There are two types of people in the world…those who hate this album, and those who love it.

Gather ’round children, and let me tell you a story of the 90’s.

Once upon a time, before Michael Buble was a household name, before his Christmas album was a twinkle in a producer’s eye, there was Mariah Carey and Merry Christmas. The year was 1994, and this reviewer was a wee tot of 2, but she was destined to cross paths with Carey’s holiday album in just a few years…and the year after that…and the year after that…and all the years after those.

I’m not entirely sure when Merry Christmas first came on my radar – I was probably 5 or 6 – but I do know that after that first encounter, nothing has sounded more like Christmas to me since. Two decades later, all I require to get into the holiday spirit is to hear the first rippling piano chords of ‘Silent Night’ and I’m good to go.

Whacking great dose of nostalgia aside, it is my humble opinion that Merry Christmas also delivers a musical treat the likes of which Michael Buble has yet to top. This was my first encounter with a gospel choir, a Hammond organ, and a voice of superhuman capabilities, and my childhood imagination was entirely captivated by this ridiculously groovy take on the season.

The prime time for listening to Christmas music when I was a kid was in the car with Mum and younger bro, on our way to our grandparents’ for various festive visits (tree-decorating, setting up the inflatable pool, delivering presents…). This was a 40 minute trip – just enough to blast out the 38 minutes of MC – during which all three of us would pump ourselves up on holiday spirit, ready to decorate the Christmas tree with gusto upon arrival at our familial destination.

“She has such an incredible voice,” my mother would say, shaking her head in wonder at Carey’s vocal acrobatics. It was the only time I really heard Mum admire a musician, so I listened to the mind-boggling melisma with rapt attention. Carey’s voice sounded like some wondrous alien instrument, flying up and down octaves of notes with fearless abandon.

And then there was the gospel choir.

I had no concept of gospel music at age 7 or even 8, but listening to the joyful cloud of harmonies sounded to me like there was a crazy good party going on inside that tape cassette. It was also the first time I heard a Hammond organ…there were so many things to listen to! For me, Merry Christmas was a festive patchwork of musical magic with no comparison.

By age 9 I’d been playing classical piano for three years, and the prominent piano solos and accompaniments across the album (but perhaps especially in ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’, ‘Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town’ and ‘Jesus Oh What A Wonderful Child’) did much to reassure me that piano could be a ‘cool’ instrument, used for other purposes than Mozart. I promised myself I would learn such groovy riffs when I was older and had mastered Bach and Beethoven.

There were things I didn’t appreciate until I was older, too. As a child I couldn’t understand why there seemed to be so many things that made Carey sad at Christmas (‘Christmas: Baby Please Come Home, ‘Miss You Most At Christmas Time’)…surely this season was the best distraction from a lame boyfriend who’d dumped her unceremoniously? I didn’t understand the magnifying effect of Christmas until much later, although I’ve always tried to remember my childhood approach to heartache.

Perhaps the best thing about Merry Christmas however, was the way it drew my mother into as childish a state of Christmas excitement as our own. As the chorus of ‘Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town’ hit, Mum’s usually strict observation of driving safety would melt slightly, allowing her to take one hand off the steering wheel to punch the air with the ‘hey!’. We always knew it would be a good day if Mum was fist-pumping to MC.

I can’t be sure, because this is not the kind of thing grown-up people discuss, but I refuse to believe I am alone in this once-a-year obsession with a 90’s Christmas album (whoever DJs for Westfields clearly shares my love, for one). But as the years slip by and the baby-faced pop stars of today release their own takes on seasonal tunes (looking at you JB and Ariana Grande), the haters are so quick to trash my beloved MC.

Well, save your “bah humbug”s – the only crime Merry Christmas has committed here is to be so damn good it gets mercilessly overplayed. And may it be so for many years to come!

TV Review: The Right Note

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The panellists of The Right Note, including: (L-R) Rod Yates, Lindsay McDougall, Danielle McGrane and Bernard Zuel. (image source)

This show so delightfully fits its title, there is really no need to say anything more.

But The Right Note, a new original TV series focused entirely on album reviews, live performances and interviews with up-and-coming musicians, is my new favourite way to spend screen time – so hear me out.

Our panellists are the best in the business: The Sydney Morning Herald‘s senior music writer, Bernard Zuel; editor of Rolling Stone Magazine Australia, Rod Yates; and entertainment journalist for Australian Associated Press, Danielle McGrane. Aussie rocker and long-time Triple J presenter Lindsay “The Doctor” McDougall hosts and contributes to the conversation, guiding us through the show with easy warmth.

Each episode includes commentary on the latest music news, three album reviews from the experts, and a live performance and interview with fresh, usually off-beat acts. At 35 minutes a pop, The Right Note is a quick injection of new music, presented by people with opinions worth listening to.

It’s a show for people with broad musical taste, too. Everyone from Pete Doherty to the Rolling Stones gets a look in, and as they wrap up each session the panellists drop recommendations for ‘albums you may have missed’…so whether you happily paddle down the mainstream, or proudly discover tunes ‘before they were cool’, chances are you’ll find something to your liking.

With the authority and perceptiveness of Stratton & Pomeranz’s At The Movies (ABC), and the easy lounge room discussion style of The Book Club (also ABC), The Right Note would surely be welcome on, well, our national telly channel. Surely that deserves 5 stars.

You can watch every episode of The Right Note, or just bite-size vids of the interviews and performances on Skipi TV, HERE.

Single review: Laura Marling’s ‘Soothing’

Four and a half stars

Slinky, seductive, and perhaps just a little coy, Laura Marling’s first single from upcoming album Semper Femina is as bewitching a herald of things to come as we could have hoped for.

Gone is the broody darkness, replaced by sensuality and tenderness. Gone are the earthy acoustic tones, replaced by sparse percussion and bluesy electric guitar. Somehow, we’ve ended up in experimental jazz territory, the likes of which are usually inhabited by Norah Jones. But Marling makes this strange new land her own.

Wafting delicately amongst the rhythmic gyrations and harmonic instability, Marling’s vocal has all the hushed intimacy of pillow talk, and all the confident authority of a narrator. It’s a combination of contexts that is as bewildering as it is bewitching, but when a cloud of strings lifts us into the dreamy surrender of the chorus (sounding a little as though it’s taken a leaf from Kate Bush’s book), all is deliciously clear.

The abundance of latex in the music video may spell it out, but the low purr of sexuality makes itself known through the songwriting alone. The tension of the verse melts into a gentle sigh of pleasure; Marling sings “I need soothing”, but the request sounds so fulfilled it seems to be uttered after the fact.

Soothing showcases a self-composed Marling, ready and willing to tackle her introspective themes with a softness she may not have known how to use before. It’s promising, it’s exciting and it’s bloody beautiful.

March 2017 can’t come fast enough.

Semper Femina is out March 10th, 2017 on Marling’s label More Alarming.

SAFIA @ Enmore Theatre 18.11.16

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Seats? What seats? Everyone became a dancer at SAFIA’s Enmore Theatre gig last Friday.

4/5

Some gigs are led by the performers, leaving audiences in the wake of their brilliance. Some (not-so-great) gigs are led by the audience, dutifully egging on an artist who over-promised and under-delivered. And still other (definitely great) gigs are a manifestation of glorious performer/audience teamwork; a cycle that is the antithesis of vicious, amplifying vibe upon enthusiastic vibe to create an outpouring of abandoned self-expression for both parties.

SAFIA and their wonderful fans succeeded in delivering something like the latter at the Enmore Theatre on Friday night.

Sydney duo Set Mo had amply warmed the crowd with their persuasive disco tunes, but the roar that greeted SAFIA’s appearance on stage was worthy of a band with twice their (already impressive) success. An eclectic, casual and irrepressibly cheerful bunch, it was clear this audience had been with SAFIA for a while. Singing their hearts out from the get-go and dancing in their seats, they were rewarded with multiple confetti cannons, funky visuals and a hella lot of energy.

Pumping through a set list filled with tracks from their debut album Internal, as well as old favourites such as Make Them Wheels Roll , Counting Sheep and Embracing Me, SAFIA hurled themselves tirelessly at an audience who lovingly returned the energy tenfold. Each song was greeted like a hit single; every lyric was hollered by the devoted; and even those of us who usually treat seats as sacred carriers of personal space, abandoned them to better allow our bodies to move instinctively with the beats. Within 20 minutes the entire theatre was on its feet, grooving as one big party.

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(Source)

If only someone had put a Fitbit on frontman Ben Woolner, he would surely have racked up his 10,000 steps within the hour, running from end to end like a crackling ball of electricity. While bandmates Michael Bell and Harry Sayers stayed put till the end, their contribution was just as intense – and the throngs of outstretched arms when they finally approached the stage edge proved their equal popularity.

SAFIA is certainly a band that comes to life on the stage. Already catchy and heartfelt, their electronic pop explodes with new immediacy when heard in the flesh; the grooves have an all-encompassing presence, and there was a sense of communal catharsis as the fans bellowed the chorus of My Love Is Gone.

In a city where live music venues are dying left, right and centre, a gig like this goes a long way to instil confidence and hope in the Sydney music scene. And in a day and age where millennials are decried for their anti-social behaviour, it was nice to revel in a crowd of young people encouraging others to dance, singing with abandon and happily enjoying the full-body effects of bloody good dance music.

Things I think while listening to the radio: part II

25. Drake – One Dance

WHY THE HELL IS THIS STILL ON THE RADIO.

24. Andy Grammar – Fresh Eyes

This actually does sound fresh, given it hasn’t reached grotesquely overplayed status yet. It’s average in the extreme, though.

23. Zara Larsson – Ain’t My Fault

That I am switching radio stations right now? Yes Zara, it is.

22. Illy ft. Anne-Marie – Catch 22

I like my rap with a catchy chorus to break up the monotony, so I am SOLD. Plus, there’s a sense of camaraderie about this track that means it’s unlikely to go stale anytime soon. Winning.

21. FRENSHIP – Capsize

Peaceful filler material. Good driving music. Mindless ease. And yes, those are all backhanded compliments.

20. Mike Perry and Shy Martin – The Ocean

I guess I can groove to this. For the millionth time.

19. Jonas Blue – Perfect Strangers

I guess I can groove to this. For the millionth time.

18. Starley – Call On Me

I guess I can groove to this. For the millionth time.

17. Shawn Mendes – Mercy

NONONONONONONONONONONONONONO. No more. Mercy. Please. #ironyintheextreme

16. Nevada et. al. – The Mack

I guess I can-…but really, can we just inject some new tunes already?!

15. Little Mix – Shout Out To My Ex

If you do not hear the fun in this, you are surely a rock in human form.

14. Martin Garrix and Bebe Rexha – In The Name Of Love

Time to headbang in slow motion/sing with much angst. I have no shame.

13. Bruno Mars – 24K Magic

New Bruno Mars?! OMG yay!! Wait…it’s a lukewarm Uptown Funk. Dammit.

12. Drake – Fake Love

Oh Drake…I don’t know how you do it, but your voice annoys the absolute bejeezus out of me. This song is no exception.

11. Sia – The Greatest

Oh God, how am I going to convince my vocal students not to try and sing like that? Sounds simultaneously painful and kickass. Thanks Sia. Technique aside, I shall happily endorse this song.

10. Calvin Harris – My Way

How am I not yet sick of this song? That riff, dammit. So catchy, so danceable.

9. Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj – Side To Side

I may have to wash my ears out afterwards, but I am going to listen to this song anyway. Coz hot damn, that beat.

8. Hailee Steinfeld – Starving

I didn’t know that I was starving until you reminded me Hailee. And now I’m hungry and grumpy, because all three major radio stations are playing your song at the same time. For the fifth time this half hour.

7. DJ Snake ft. Justin Bieber – Let Me Love You

Good lyrics, good groove…I am going to holler that chorus like my life depends on it.

6. Major Lazer ft. Justin Bieber and MO – Cold Water

More Bieber?! What luck! A little less catchy, but still seamless. Good times.

5. Maroon 5 and Kendrick Lamar – Don’t Wanna Know

Meh. *nods head absentmindedly*

4. The Chainsmokers ft. Phoebe Ryan – All We Know

All you know, Chainsmokers, is how to make songs that sound like Closer.

3. James Arthur – Say You Won’t Let Go

Ladies and gentlemen, successfully filling the void that Jamie Lawson left when we finally got over I Wasn’t Expecting That, please welcome Mr James Arthur! Can we all move on from the cutesy acoustic ballads now?

2. The Chainsmokers ft. Halsey – Closer

Why is that riff not more annoying? Is it annoying? Do I like it? Oh yay Halsey’s singing.

1. The Weeknd ft. Daft Punk – Starboy

Must there be a counter-intuitive emphasis on the end of each phrase? It messes with my classical brain. Also there’s only so many times I can tolerate ‘ah’ and its rhyming colleagues. Not feeling this one Weeknd, soz dude.

Three albums to add to your library right now

Dustin Tebbutt – First Light

Vance Joy fans rejoice – for those of us who have outgrown Riptide and its fellows, Tebbutt’s latest release offers a perfect (dare I say, more grown-up) alternative. At once chilled out and uplifting, the gentle mix of acoustic guitar, light percussion and occasional layer of electronica, support Tebbutt’s floating vocal deliveries. Cue lazy Sunday morning.

Lakuta – Brothers and Sisters

If Western club music has you wanting a little more, look no further than the global sounds of Lakuta. Including musicians from Africa, Spain and the UK, this group combines the very best of danceable soul, disco and funk with socio-political statements, sensual Latin vibes and infectious Afro-beat rhythms.

Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker

I don’t remember being this awestruck by musical charisma since I first heard Tom Waits’ Rain Dogs in my early uni days – Cohen’s latest album is absolutely bloody mesmerising. Skeletal accompaniments and gospel choirs take a backseat to musings that have been 82 years in the making. “I’m ready, Lord” growls Cohen, to which your ears will reply “Take me, take me now”.